Quantitative Easing Helps the Fat Cats and Hurts Everyone Else
Many speculate that the Fed will launch QE3 next week.
But independent economics and financial experts say this would hurt – rather than help – the economy.
Dallas Federal Reserve Bank president Richard Fisher said:
I firmly believe that the Federal Reserve has already pressed the limits of monetary policy. So-called QE2, to my way of thinking, was of doubtful efficacy, which is why I did not support it to begin with. But even if you believe the costs of QE2 were worth its purported benefits, you would be hard pressed to now say that still more liquidity, or more fuel, is called for given the more than $1.5 trillion in excess bank reserves and the substantial liquid holdings above the normal working capital needs of corporate businesses.
William F. Ford – former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta – notes:
One of the overlooked consequences of the Federal Reserve’s recent rounds of monetary stimulus is the adverse impact those policies have had on the interest income of savers. The prolonged and abnormally low interest-rate structure put in place by the Fed has made life particularly difficult for retirees and others who depend on conservative interest-sensitive investments. But the negative effects do not stop there. They spillover into the overall performance of the economy.
Our estimates show that these negative effects, resulting from the Fed’s two rounds of quantitative easing (QE1 and QE2), are sizable and may help account for the lackluster character of the current recovery.
By lowering interest rates to historically unprecedented levels, the Fed’s policy deprives savers of interest income they normally would have earned on the interest-sensitive assets they hold. Thus, there is an income channel that no one is talking about, and its negative impact can be powerful.
Table 2 below shows our estimates of the possible losses in spending power, output, and employment generated by the Fed’s artificially low interest rates. Even by our most conservative estimate, which only looks at the $9.9 trillion in assets most directly affected by depressed yields on Treasurys, the losses are impressive. The average yield on Treasurys in June 2010 was 2.14 percent compared to an average of 7.07 percent in the previous nine recoveries, a difference of 4.93 percentage points. The projected annual impact of this loss of interest income on just $9.9 trillion of rate-sensitive assets translates into $256 billion of lost consumption, a 1.75 percent loss of GDP, and about 2.4 million fewer jobs. (Our calculations assume that the recipients of interest income face a 25 percent average income tax rate and consume 70 percent of their after-tax income.)
Had these jobs not been lost, the unemployment rate would be 7.5 percent, instead of the current 9.1 percent, and this is the minimal effect we estimate.
As the estimate of the total of affected interest-sensitive assets gets bigger, the negative effects of depressed yields becomes even more striking. Using our mid-point estimate of $14.35 trillion of interest-sensitive assets, a 4.93 percentage point reduction in interest rates annually cost the economy $371 billion in spending, 3.5 million jobs, and 2.53 percent of GDP. This is a sizable effect, given that during this time GDP grew by only 2.33 percent and the economy added only 870,000 jobs.
With the additional jobs that might have been created by higher interest income levels, the unemployment rate could fall to 6.8 percent. And output could grow more than twice as fast as it has. The resulting GDP growth rate of 4.86 percent would then be closer to the average second-year growth rate of the past nine recoveries, and the U.S. economy would be well on its way to a vigorous recovery, rather than struggling as it is now.
This midpoint appraisal is our best estimate of the likely effect of the Fed’s policy. It may still be on the low side.
The numbers do not account for any so-called multiplier effects. Additional spending by recipients of interest income creates revenues for businesses, which in turn increases the income of their owners and employees, who themselves spend more. This, in turn, could boost overall spending and employment by more than the gain in interest income alone would suggest.
The housing market has not even begun to recover since the QE initiatives were created. U.S. auto sales and the stock market also remain well below pre-recession levels. And the sharp decline of the U.S. dollar has not created an export boom. But it has put upward pressure on the cost of our food and energy imports.
And tens of millions of U.S. savers, largely the elderly, still are facing strained circumstances created by Fed-driven abnormally low interest rates across the entire Treasury yield curve.
The negative impacts on output and employment caused by quantitative easing through the interest income effects shown here are large. In fact, they may outweigh the expected, but hard-to-document, positive effects of the QE program.
In fact, it has been thoroughly-documented that quantitative easing is great for the wealthy, but terrible for the little guy.
As the Guardian reported last year, quantitative easing increases inequality:
Quantitative easing (QE) … have contributed to social unrest by exacerbating inequality, according to one City economist.
As the Bank of England considers unleashing a fresh round of QE, Dhaval Joshi, of BCA Research, argues the approach of creating electronic money pushes up share prices and profits without feeding through to wages.
“The evidence suggests that QE cash ends up overwhelmingly in profits, thereby exacerbating already extreme income inequality and the consequent social tensions that arise from it,” Joshi says in a new report.
He points out that real wages – adjusted for inflation – have fallen in both the US and UK, where QE has been a key tool for boosting growth. In Germany, meanwhile, where there has been no quantitative easing, real wages have risen.
The Washington Post reported last month:
How might a third round of quantitative easing (QE3) affect the already-wide levels of inequality in the United States? Across the Atlantic, the Bank of England has come in for some criticism this week after it released a new report showing that its own quantitative easing efforts have disproportionately benefited the wealthiest:
The richest 10% of households in Britain have seen the value of their assets increase by up to £322,000 [$510,000] as a result of the Bank of England‘s attempts to use electronic money creation to lift the economy out of its deepest post-war slump. …
The Bank of England calculated that the value of shares and bonds had risen by 26% – or £600bn – as a result of the policy, equivalent to £10,000 for each household in the UK. It added, however, that 40% of the gains went to the richest 5% of households.
It’s not hard to see why this happens. One way the bank’s quantitative easing program works, in theory, by pushing up asset prices in order to support the broader economy. And, according to the Bank of England, the median British household only holds about $2,370 in financial assets. So the direct benefits largely accrue to wealthier households.
What about the United States? Much like in Britain, the distribution of financial assets are also heavily skewed. As you can see on page 26 of this Fed report (pdf), the median American family in the middle income bracket has about $19,900 in financial wealth. By contrast, the median family in the top income bracket has $423,800 in financial wealth. So any move by the Fed to push up asset prices is likely to increase wealth inequality in the short term.
There are other effects, too. As The Wall Street Journal has reported, the Fed’s efforts to bring down interest rates have mainly helped better-off Americans with good credit scores. For instance, it’s exceedingly cheap to get a mortgage right now — for a small number of people. (The folks at Zero Hedge, who are no fan of Bernanke’s stimulus efforts, have compiled a much longer list of links on how the Fed’s quantitative easing program benefits the wealthy.)
Indeed, Bernanke knew in 1988 that quantitative easing doesn’t work. But he keeps caving in to the super-elite, and implementing it anyway.